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Hiking

When should you hike a trail? Some hikes lead to fascinating forests, some have tremendous views and others are rich in variety. Share your favorite trails with other hikers and nature lovers.

Welcome to our unique Denali guide (updated 2019) with tips for each month, hiking insights, and everything you should know about the bus transport service. When is the best time to visit? Denali is open year-round. However, main activities and tours are being offered in summer only. Shuttle busses will get you into the wilderness from May 20 until mid-September. Now, read our season guide below the quick navigation or jump directly to the top hiking and bus tips.

Quick Navigation:

Special Tip: Don't forget to check out our unique Denali Bus FAQ at the end of this article. It's extremely helpful and answers all of your questions!

Weather overview? Find helpful weather details at: Denali Park Weather Monthly averages here: Climate Denali National Park (switch from C to F at the top right. Keep in mind that the temperatures vary depending on the elevation and the part of the park). Check the Denali Webcam at Wonder Lake and read on for more details about a summer, winter, spring or fall visit:


The best time to experience amazing fall foliage in Denali: Late August/early-September
 

Mid-May - late May (spring): May is the driest month and the weather starts to get warmer. Average high: 52°F (11°C). Most tours and the shuttle bus service start around mid-May. However, some snow has still to melt. As a result, the deeper parts of the park are often not fully accessible. Rates are low and there are no crowds.

June (late spring, summer): June is also a very dry month and temperatures climb. Average high: 66°F (19°). Flowers are in bloom and you get the most hours of daylight (Sunrise-Sunset Denali). After the first week of June, the park is usually fully accessible. Early June until mid-June is a great time before it starts to get crowded with tourists coming from cruise ships and everywhere else. Drawback: Mosquitoes are an issue from June until the end of July.

July (summer): July is the warmest months with temperatures climbing to 70°F (21°C) and still a lot of daylight (18-19 hours). There is slightly more precipitation than in June, but no need to worry about long periods of rain. July is the peak month in terms of visitation. Again, small drawback: Mosquitoes are still an issue.

August (late summer): It's still pleasant. However, temperatures already start to drop slightly but it's still a great month temperature wise. Average high: 62°F (17°C). Also, there are slightly fewer daylight hours in August (16-17 hours). August has the highest average precipitation of all months. However, nothing to worry about. You need to bring rain gear regardless of the month. In terms of visitors, it's still very crowded.

Early September - mid-September (early autumn): As temperatures drop it will be cooler in September and there is also less daylight (11-14 hours). Average high: 50°F (10°C). However, it's still a great month to visit as the temperature is still pleasant and all services are being offered until mid-September. After Labor Day Weekend (beginning of September) the crowds dissipate as well. You'll enjoy a much more peaceful park. Looking for the leaf color explosion? Fall foliage starts early in Denali. The peak time for the beautiful fall colors is usually the end of August and early September.

Mid-September - mid-October (autumn) and April - early May (spring): Most services are shut down, restaurants, hotels, and shops are closed from mid-September to mid-May. However, the shoulder season can be quite rewarding as you can experience the 'real' Alaska. In the fall temperatures can still be pleasant or already freezing cold in October. Always check the weather forecast. In fall and spring, you need to rent a car as the shuttle service is not available. More helpful details about visiting in shoulder season: Fall and Spring Visit 

Late-October - March (winter): It gets freezing cold and it's time for Winter Activities. Including skiing, winter biking and snowshoeing. Temperatures are ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit and colder, to high 20s on warm days.


Avoiding Tourist Crowds

The summer months experience the highest visitation. Check out the visitation chart below, then our tips for enjoying  a more peaceful visit to Denali National Park.

  • Shoulder Weeks (late spring/early fall):
    To avoid the most crowds at the popular spots (entrance areas, bus tours, visitor centers, famous spots) during peak season, still use the shuttle bus service and enjoy mostly pleasant weather: Visit during either in the very short late spring or early fall season: End of May until mid-June or early September (after Labor Day) until mid-September.
     
  • Popular Tours in Shoulder Weeks:
    The very popular day tours which do not include hiking like the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Experience Tour are usually fully booked during peak months. During shoulder weeks (see above) there is a good chance that a tour bus is less than half full. That means you can spread out. The tours usually run from mid-May until mid-September (Kantishna from early June until mid-September). Read below for more info on bus tours.
     
  • Own Activities / Trail Hiking:
    You can avoid crowds in peak season by planning your own activities. And even if you only drive to Savage River (by free bus shuttle or with your own car) for the short hike and to spend time there, you'll avoid tourist groups by starting early. Check the list of trails: Denali Trail Details. Always start early, and you'll avoid the crowds. If you take a shuttle bus: Make an online reservation and book the earliest departure.
     
  • Off-Trail Hikes/Walks:
    Even in the summer, it's quite easy to get away from every group of tourists and spend time in solitude: Book a transit shuttle bus early in the morning departing from the WAC (Wilderness Access Center). Get off the bus wherever you like and start hiking or walking. Regardless of your fitness level or age! If you feel intimidated, you can stay close to the park road the whole time and still experience stunning wilderness and wildlife. Get back on the bus to WAC whenever you like for free. Find more details about easy off-trail hikes (even short 1-2 hours hikes/walks) below in the hiking and shuttle text section.
     
  • Stay at a Hotel Outside the Park:
    The entrance area is always filled with thousands of people in the summer. The same applies to the hotels very close to the entrance (Princes Lodges, Bluffs Hotels, …). The easiest way to avoid those heavily crowded areas is to take advantage of the more quiet lodging alternatives in Healy (17 Minute Drive - Google Maps). You'd need a rental car in case the hotel doesn't offer a shuttle service (UBER is also available now), but the hotels there are also less expensive. Check the best prices and book well ahead: Healy - Recommended Hotels
 

Wildlife / Flora / Northern Lights

The best time of day to spot wildlife is in the morning or late afternoon/evening. Being on a bus long enough increases your chances. Best season is during the warmer summer months. There is not much wildlife in the winter due to hibernation. Denali also has a rich and amazing flora. Wildflowers begin to bloom in early June till late July. How to spot the Northern Lights? Since the Denali region is almost free light pollution,  it's an excellent area to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights).  The sky must be dark enough and clear. With a partly clouded sky, it's less likely to experience it. Time of day? Usually, you can start looking after 1,5 hours after sunset. It's possible to see the Aurora here between mid-August and early-May. However, the highest chance to spot Northern Lights is in March/April and September/October.

US United States

Otherworldly! The Wave - Coyote Buttes North. One of the most fascinating hikes on our planet! However, there is one catch: You have to win a permit! How to increase your chances and answers to every other possible questions you might have are covered here. You'll learn things no one else tells you about 'The Wave'! Read our powerful planning guide below (check our infographic!)

Before you start, these are the 5 proven must-know tips for the lottery (how to win a permit) at a glance:

  1. Months: Highest chance for a permit in January / early February
  2. Walk-In Lottery: Enter the lottery for at least 2 consecutive days
  3. Walk-In Lottery: Between November and March. Plus: Enter on a Friday as well
  4. Online-Lottery: Wait until the end of the month before entering the lottery
  5. Online-Lottery: Select 3 dates with the fewest applicants

Read on for more detailed tips and everything you should know before you go.

Permits

There is no more real off-season in terms of lottery applicants. Don't trust older reviews, as winning becomes less likely every year. However, the chances to win a permit are still a little better in the winter months. Especially in January and early February. Find more insider tips on how to win a permit in the text and infographic below.

Crowds and Weather

Since only 20 persons per day are allowed, crowds are not an issue. However, Kanab (Visitor Center) and Page are less crowded if you avoid peak tourist months (late June, July, August). In terms of weather, we recommend spring (March, April, May) or fall (September, October, November): The temperatures are moderate and the cloud cover is reasonable, particularly in April/May. In summer (June/July/August) it gets very hot (100°F, 40°C). You should start very early to beat the heat. In the winter the ground might be snow covered and muddy. This may result in an impassable road sometimes. The cloud cover is higher in winter as well. However, you should keep in mind that the weather doesn't matter that much: Try to win a permit for this unique hike, regardless of the weather.

Photography (Time of Day)

A sixty foot buttes causes massive shadows and the best time to take photos there is often not sunrise/sunset. However, almost any time for a photo is great when you're at this otherworldly place. Extra tip: Look for puddles to capture great reflections.

US United States

Kenya is on equatorial east Africa and yet you will be surprised at the weather. September is mildly winter in Lake Naivasha and the sun feels good during daytime while you will need a light wind jacket for the evening.

Great experience includes Hippos in Lake Naivasha, the canyon at Hell's Gate National Park and Elsamere - the house where Elsa the lioness grew up with Gorge and Joy Adamson from Born-free.

Navaisha town is very small, no one accepts anything other than US Dollars or Kenyan Schillings - not even the banks. So always carry enough cash with you.

It is a quiet town so don't expect too much entertainment. There are a couple of nightclubs though.

Hell's Gate National Park lies near the bottom of Mount Longonot, an active volcano. Nowadays a geothermal power plant is harnessing the steam from the volcano , so there are no chances for eruption either.

The canyon is however dangerous because of sudden rains. If there is any rain, be sure take the emergency path out of the canyon as soon as you can. There are no big predators in the National Park but keep away from buffaloes.

KE Kenya

Alice Lake Provincial Park Squamish is pretty busy during summer and popular for camping. The Four Lakes Trail can be done all year and is beautiful with sunshine and during fall. It’s permitted to swim in these lakes therefore in summer bring your swimming clothes and a towel in your backpack.

Swimming at Alice Lake Provincial Park in September

Avoiding Crowds

Arrive early during summer; the car parks fill up fast due to the many activity options and the beautiful location. There are several car parks in the park. The last one at Alice Lake is the quietest, less busy and located close to the trailhead with a nice and clean picnic area. The best choice is camping at Alice Lake, but reservations have to be done in advance for summer. May, June, and September are still crowded but mostly not fully booked.

Hiking the Four Lakes Trail at Alice Lake Provincial Park

The trail is popular for hiking, biking, and running among tourists and residents. Mid-week fewer people are on the dog-friendly trail. Around 40.000 people hike this trail each year.

Weather / Climate

Squamish has a high amount of rainfall throughout the year with its peak from October/November to February/March. Summer is the driest season of the year, but rain can occur so be prepared while hiking. From May to September the temps are pleasant for hiking, in summer around 20 °C / 68°F but can be hot as well with temps over 30 °C / 86 °F. Nights are cool even in the summer with a maximum of 10 to 13 °C / 50 to 55 °F. Due to the Howe Sound, it's freezing cold during the winter only. 

August
  • Stump Lake is covered with yellow pond-lilies which looks gorgeous.
  • Between mid- and late August swarms of toadlets (frogs) move from their birth lake to their home in the forest. They are very small and it's difficult to see them. Be careful while hiking.
Good to Know for Biker:

The bike trail is closed to cyclist from May to mid-September.

CA Canada

The Chief hike is one of the most popular trails in British Columbia and also famous for climbing with just an hour drive from Vancouver. The hiking season starts in late March and lasts until the end of October. Best hiking conditions are during summer, but this is the peak season as well. August is the worst month due to the Canadian School Holidays. September is a lovely month. Continue reading to figure out all details for this breathtaking hike.

Stawamus Chief from behind and Garibaldi Mountain in the back
Stawamus Chief from Sea to Sky Gondola - Mt. Garibaldi in the back

Avoiding Crowds

This excellent trail is pretty busy during the weekends and in the summer; July and August. Spring and fall are less crowded. We hiked on a Friday morning to the peaks, and it was still busy in the afternoon. Plenty of hikers came to walk to the top of the first peak. If you like to climb this track with fewer people give the first peak a miss; it' the most frequented one. Fewer hikers continue to the second peak of the Chief and the third in the north is even less busy. The view from the first peak is already spectacular and gets even better from the second. If possible hike mid-week in spring or fall. The summer season is super busy, and campgrounds are fully booked. From the first of September onwards camping is more fun and there are plenty of campsites to choose from. 

Stawamus Chief hike always up through the forest
The Stawamus Chief Hike always up

Hiking Season

Usually, you can hike from spring in March until late fall at the end of October. The Chief gets snow during winter. Anyhow, if it’s wet, the granite rocks are quite slippery. There are also slippery parts at dry weather where many hikers climbed up and down on the same route.

Climbing up on the granite monolith Stawamus Chief close to Squamish

Parking the Car

The parking at Darrell Bay is limited in space. There are two parking lots for hikers and climbers, and it fills up soon in the morning. These two parking lots are for free. The parking for the sea to sky gondola nearby is limited for three hours. Tip: You can also start hiking from the nearby Shannon Falls if the two parking lots at Darrell Bay are full.

Weather

Squamish gets a high amount of precipitation throughout the year with its peak from October/November to February/March. Summer is the driest season of the year, but rain can occur so be prepared while hiking. From May to September the temps are pleasant, in summer around 20 °C / 68°F but can be hot as well with temps over 30 °C / 86 °F. Nights are cool even during summer with a maximum of 10 to 13 °C / 50 to 55 °F. Due to the location at Howe sound only freezing temps during the winter. There is often rainfall in Squamish while it is snowing on the Sea to Sky summit.

Stawamus Chief Hike a strenuous hike uphill

Where to Stay or Camp

Camping in Squamish; There are several opportunities for camping. These are our favorites:

  • We enjoyed camping in the Alice Lake Provincial Park walk-in site for $ 23. There are 108 campsites, hot showers, swimming in the lake is cold but awesome, the Four Lakes Trail starts at the campground. Gets a bit windy though in the evening. Look where you pitch your tent. It’s quite popular during summer and reservations are advisable. Number 97-108 are walk-in sites. Campground Map of Alice Lake
  • The Stawamus Chief campground with 47 sites, 10 $ p.p., pit toilet, and water,  located close to HW 99.
  • Hotels: We love the low budget Squamish Hotel during colder night temps. It's clean, quiet, washing and ice for free, and the most attentive staff.
CA Canada

In general, the best months for a hike in the Banff National Park are from mid-May to late September. Hiking to the Consolation Lakes is possible from mid-May until September/October; the end of the hiking season. To enjoy these magical lakes without tour buses come here off season in May or October or early morning. The car park fills up quickly. The road to Moraine Lake car park gets opened from mid-May to roughly mid-October depending on snow conditions and avalanche risk.

Weather and Hiking Conditions

Consolation Lakes - Banff

Hiking Season from earliest mid-May until latest mid-October. Many passes are covered in snow until late June. Around mid-July they become accessible, but hiking trails on higher elevation are still muddy. It’s often wet in the Rockies and depending on the amount of rainfall in spring there are tons of mosquitoes from June on until the first frost in September or October. 2015 was one of the worst years where you usually got a hundred bites and more on a weekend while camping. In 2017, it was vice versa. It was such a dry summer that you experienced very few mosquitoes in September. Unfortunately, many wildfires occurred and it was smoky most of the time with poor visibility. Many Provincial Parks and hiking trails in Alberta were closed. If planing to visit in May, September, October check trail conditions and closures first.

Moraine Lake - Banff

Pleasant day temps in July and August but still below 20°C / 68°F. Night temps are freezing cold on average 2°C / 36°F. Rain and snow occurs throughout the year depending on the elevation. September is a transitional month it can be nice and sunny but snow can happen as well. Check the weather forecast before hiking. Weather can change quickly.

Avoiding Crowds

Larch Season in Banff National Park

It is very busy during the summer months and at weekends in the Larch season, but you can do some fantastic hikes that will take you away from the crowds. If you start early morning, you definitely do not share the trails with many other visitors. Even around midday only very view people hike the trail to Consolation Lakes. Moraine Lake is overrun almost the entire day but in the afternoon the tour buses already left the area.

Parking

The 14 km long road to Moraine Lake where the hike starts is closed when the car park is full. Queuing for up to an hour at the next picnic area is the only option to get there by car. Free and privately-operated shuttle buses are offered from Lake Louise. 

Time of Day (Photography)

You get the best shot of the vibrant turquoise Moraine Lake before midday.

(Updated by When to be Where)

CA Canada